Nothing But Shattered Dreams
As opening days of the season go this couldn’t have been much worse. The last three openers have now seen 13 goals conceded without reply. This year hopes had been built a little but the dreams have faded and died just as rapidly. Sure this was against a Manchester City side, the league’s finest, who have now extended their London Stadium record to played 5, won 5, goals for 22 and goals against 1, but that is not a reason to not compete. There is undoubtedly a huge gulf in class but why such a large difference in fitness, spirit and organisation? I doubt many really expected West Ham could win the game but we didn’t expect capitulation. To go down fighting is one thing; to meekly wave the white flag of surrender is unforgivable. The Hammers staked their runaway claim for the most incompetent performance of the weekend despite honourable mentions from Watford and Chelsea. The only positive I can come up with is that at least we have got this fixture out of the way early doors (© Big Ron).
From The Beginning
West Ham actually started the game quite brightly and for 20 minutes or so seemed to unsettle their opponents by their enterprise, although without really threatening. The physical presence of Sebastien Haller and Michail Antonio created an uncertainty in the visitor’s defence leading to an uncharacteristic sloppiness on the ball. The danger, though, was that the approach left too many claret and blue shirts forward as spectators when possession was lost. The Hammer’s daring appeared not only to surprise supporters but also Manchester City. However, once they got into their stride and started to exploit the space left in front of our defence the warning signs were too apparent. It may have been an admirable gamble by Manuel Pellegrini but trying to out-play City was always going to be extremely long odds. The Sky Blues rare defeats are usually as a result of packed defence and snatched goals from breakaways or set pieces – not be playing them off the park. Once the first goal went in the result was not in doubt – only the margin of defeat.
The Dark Side of The (Blue) Moon
As I had highlighted in my match preview, Manchester City are masters of the cynical tug and shove in preventing opponents the opportunity of rapid counter attacks – something that has featured widely in post match analysis. That the fouls are largely innocuous and committed in safe areas of the pitch means they rarely garner any serious attention from the referee. On Saturday, Mike Dean allowed Rodri to get away with several such challenges and Fernandinho has been doing it for years. It is as much a City tactic as their sweet passing and movement. Pellegrini mentioned after the game that his own midfielders needed to be a little nastier in that respect. Maybe this is part of our manager’s laissez-faire approach to defending allowing players to act they see fit rather than under instruction. I am fairly certain that cynical fouls and the art of diving in the area, are part of the training regime at the majority of top professional clubs. The line between fair play and naivety is a fine one.
Style Over Substance
Reading through our list of midfield players and it is easy to believe that it is mightily impressive. One can imagine it full of the type of silky Latin skills that personify the beautiful game. If only that were the reality of what we saw this Saturday. The promised passing, interplay and movement didn’t show up. Decision making was poor and there was no width or penetration. On those rare occasions where an opportunity to cross was engineered, delivery was shockingly bad. The first decent cross didn’t arrive until the introduction of Robert Snodgrass in the second half. Manuel Lanzini buzzed around to no effect, Felipe Anderson was anonymous apart from an early foray down the right wing and Jack Wilshere is not athletic enough for a deeper lying role and it removes him from areas where he can do the most damage. Collectively the team were unable to create space and our play became condensed in pointless triangles well away from the danger areas. Declan Rice and the central defenders were left exposed time and again as City were given the freedom of the park. Ryan Fredericks defending has improved but the there was little evidence of the electric pace going forward that is meant to be his strength. Aaron Cresswell was run ragged all afternoon. Bags of flair without hard work and organisation is not going to win many games and even though Pellegrini must have known how City would play he could do nothing to resist it.
New Kids On The Block
It is impossible to judge any player on one game but Haller showed that he could have the right physical attributes and a good enough touch to thrive in the Premier League. Of course, he is there primarily to score goals and there was limited opportunity to see what he has to offer from that perspective. Pablo Fornals, on as a second half substitute, made little impression and I don’t recall any significant contribution. Apparently, he had 23 touches with a 85% pass completion rate but there was nothing noteworthy out of those statistics. Not a dream debut but obviously needs to be given time to adjust and show what he can do.
Don’t Mention The VAR
The jury is out for me on VAR and the impact it will have on flow of the game. Some interesting decisions at the weekend with Sterling’s armpit being caught offside and the Wolves goal ruled out at Leicester for accidental handball in a penalty box melee from the preceding corner. At least the disallowed City goal gave the London Stadium faithful one thing to cheer on Saturday.
Fabianski (6), Fredericks (5), Diop (5), Balbuena (5), Cresswell (3), Rice (6), Wilshere (5), Anderson (4), Lanzini (4), Antonio (5), Haller (6). Subs: Fornals (5), Snodgrass (6), Hernandez (5)